My Mother’s Peasant Bread
Note: This is a very wet, no-knead dough, so, while the original recipe doesn’t call for one, some sort of baking vessel, such as pyrex bowls (about 1-L or 1.5 L or 1-qt or 1.5 qt) or ramekins for mini loaves is required to bake this bread. UPDATE 01/04: Do not use a bowl that is larger than 2 qt or 2 L in size — this size is too big for this type of dough, which is very delicate. Several commenters have had trouble with the second rise, and this seems to be caused by the shape of the bowl they are letting the dough rise in the second time around. Two hours for the second rise is too long. If you don’t have a 1 or 1.5 qt bowl, bake 3/4 of the dough in a loaf pan and bake the rest off in muffin tins or a popover pan — I recently made 6 mini loaves in a popover pan. The second rise should take no more than an hour and more like 30 minutes.
- 4 cups (1 lb. 2 oz) all-purpose flour* (do not use bleached all-purpose)
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 cups lukewarm water**
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 teaspoons active-dry yeast***
- room temperature butter, about 2 tablespoons
1. In a large mixing bowl whisk the flour and the salt. Set aside. Grease a separate large bowl with butter or olive oil and set this aside. (This is optional actually — I now just let the bread rise in the same bowl that I mix it in. My mother, however, always transfers the dough to a greased bowl.)
2. In a small mixing bowl, dissolve the sugar into the water. Sprinkle the yeast over top. There is no reason to stir it up. Let it stand for about 10 to 15 minutes or until the mixture is foamy and/or bubbling just a bit — this step is just to ensure that the yeast is active. (See photo above.) Now, gently stir it up, and add to the flour bowl. Stir this mixture up with a spatula or wooden spoon. Mixture will be wet. Scrape this mixture into prepared greased bowl from step 1. (Or, if you’re feeling lazy, just cover this bowl with plastic wrap or a tea towel.)
3. Cover bowl with a tea towel or plastic wrap and set aside in a warm spot to rise for at least an hour. (If you have the time to let it rise for 1.5 to 2 hours, do so — this will help the second rise go more quickly.) This is what my mother always does: Preheats the oven at its highest temperatureits lowest setting for just one minute, then shuts off the oven. UPDATE 01/05: Preheat the oven for a total of one minute — do not allow the oven to get up to 300ºF, for example, and then heat at that setting for 1 minute — this will be too hot. Just let the oven preheat for a total of 1 minute — it likely won’t get above 300ºF. The goal is to just create a slightly warm environment for the bread. Next, she runs a tea towel under hot water and rings it out so it’s just damp. Finally, she covers the bowl containing the bread with the damp tea towel and places it in the warm, turned-off oven to rise. It usually takes about an hour to double in bulk, but letting it rise for an hour and a half or up to two hours is fine.
4. Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Grease two oven-safe bowls (such as the pyrex bowls I mentioned above) with about a tablespoon of butter each. (My mother might use even more — more butter not only adds flavor but also prevents sticking). Using two forks, punch down your dough, scraping it from the sides of the bowl, which it will be clinging to. As you scrape it down try to turn the dough up onto itself if that makes sense. You want to loosen the dough entirely from the sides of the bowl, and you want to make sure you’ve punched it down. Take your two forks and divide the dough into two equal portions — eye the center of the mass of dough, and starting from the center and working out, pull the dough apart with the two forks. Then scoop up each half and place into your prepared bowls. This part can be a little messy — the dough is very wet and will slip all over the place. Using small forks or forks with short tines makes this easier — my small salad forks work best; my dinner forks make it harder. It’s best to scoop it up fast and plop it in the bowl in one fell swoop. Let the dough rise for about 30 minutes or until it has risen to just below or above (depending on what size bowl you are using) the top of the bowls.
5. Bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375º and make for 22 to 25 minutes longer. Remove from the oven and turn the loaves onto cooling racks. If you’ve greased the bowls well, the loaves should fall right out onto the cooling racks. If the loaves look a little pale and soft when you’ve turned them out onto your cooling racks, place the loaves into the oven (outside of their bowls) and let them bake for about 5 minutes longer. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes before cutting.